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Archive for the ‘Epistolary’ Category

Postcard of street scene in Yokohama, Japan about 1900 shows cluttered sidewalks, rickshaws, telephone poles.
After her husband’s death in 1900, a Southern belle agrees to teach kindergarten in a mission school in Hiroshima.

She needs the money. She also needs to regain her equilibrium after a bad, seven-year marriage.


The Lady of the Decoration by Frances Little¹
1907 bestseller #1. Project Gutenberg ebook #7523. My grade: B.

The kindergartners salute her, thinking the enameled watch pinned to her bodice is a medal from the Emperor. They call her The Lady of the Decoration.

She, in turn, is fascinated by Japan’s scenery and people, especially the children. She longs to “take the whole lot of them to my heart and love them into an education.”

The Lady records her experiences in letters to her cousin back in Kentucky.

A vivacious blonde, the Lady causes a stir among the Japanese adults as well as the children.

When the Russo-Japanese War breaks out, she’s vocally pro-Japan, helping care for wounded soldiers.

Thanks to the Lady’s buoyant humor, despite the poverty and suffering she sees and the homesickness and unhappiness she often feels, the novel makes cheerful bedtime reading

Readers never learn the letter writer’s name, but they learn to know her. She sums up the years 1901–1905 in a letter:

I don’t care a rap for the struggle and the heart aches, if I have only made good. When I came out there were two kindergartens, now there are nine besides a big training class. Anybody else could have done as much for the work but one thing is certain, the work couldn’t have done for anyone else what it has done for me.


¹Frances Little is the pseudonym of American author Fannie Caldwell Macaulay. The Lady of the Decoration was her first, and most successful novel.

© 2017 Linda Gorton Aragoni

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Dear Enemy picks up the story of the John Grier Home that Jean Webster began in her earlier epistolary novel Daddy Long Legs.

The leading characters in that romance have chosen vivacious socialite Sallie McBride to turn the orphanage into a model institution.

Drawing of Sallie opening basket containing a puppy.

Sallie finds a puppy, gift from her friends Jean and Jervis.


Dear Enemy by Jean Webster

Jean Webster, Illus.  Century Co., 1915.  1916 bestseller #9.
Project Gutenberg ebook #238. My Grade: B+.


Sallie accepts only until Judy and Jervis can find someone else.

Almost immediately, Sallie locks horns with tradition and rigidity personified by the dour Scots doctor Robin MacRae.

He finds her frivolous, unfit for her job.

His attitude puts Sallie’s back up.

She turns on the charm where it will do the most good.

Before long Sallie has everyone eating out of her hand except Dr. MacRae. Sallie sends him notes addressed, “Dear Enemy.”

When the doctor leaves to take care of some personal business Sallie learns the cause of his moroseness.

For warm-hearted Sallie, it’s just a step from sympathy to love.

For all its romance and charm, Dear Enemy overlays a snapshot of institutional life in early twentieth century America. While not quite Dickensian, it’s a long way from Boys Town.

Sadie Kate has had her pigtails cut off.

Sallie is determined someone will adopt Sadie Kate, now minus her awful pigtails.

Sadly, some of the issues Sallie faced youth workers face today.

You couldn’t learn about them any more pleasantly than through Dear Enemy.

© 2016 Linda Gorton Aragoni

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Until Bel Kaufman published Up The Down Staircase, the teacher in popular fiction was either a joke or a beloved martyr to the teaching profession like Miss Bishop and Mr. Chips.

Sylvia Barrett is neither a martyr nor a joke. She’s young, pretty, hard-working, and willing to learn even from her students.

Mustard-yellow paint peeling in stairwell


Up The Down Staircase by Bel Kaufman

New York: Barker Publishing, 1965. 340 pages. 1965 bestseller #2. My grade: B


She is also totally unprepared for the students and the problems she finds at Calvin Coolidge High School.

Up the Down Staircase is not a particularly good novel; the 1967 film version makes the storyline stronger.

The novel compensates for its sketchy plot by a backpack’s worth of artifacts from the academic arena: notes, memos, bits of homework.

At first, Sylvia thinks the administrators are incompetent. She resents being treated as a clog in the system.

Gradually, however, she realizes that the administrators are doing their best in a bureaucracy over which they have no control.

Of course, this being fiction, we know Sylvia will be a wonderful teacher. The only suspense is whether she will survive long enough to decide she wants to stay on at CCHS.

When a student commits suicide at the school, that event makes the minimal impact on Sylvia’s life—which reveals she, too, has become part of the system.

© 2015 Linda Gorton Aragoni

Photo credit: Yellowslide by phreekdog.

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If Garrison Keillor had been CEO of a pork-packing business in the 1890s, he might have written Letters from a Self-Made Merchant to His Son.

Since he was not, George Horace Lorimer undertook the task, producing a bestselling novel brimming with funny stories, shrewd advice, and love.

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Each of the 17 chapters of the novel is presented as a letter from John Grahman to his son, Pierrepont, beginning when Pierrepont enters Harvard University.

From the other letters, readers can trace Pierrepont’s career.

Without describing either of the Graham men, Lorimer develops such vivid portraits of them, I felt I’d known them for years. What’s more, I felt I was a better person for that acquaintance.

The father is nobody’s fool. He wants his son to be a good man, a good businessman, and, eventually, a good husband and father.

After graduation, Pierrepont joins his father’s firm at the bottom rung. Pierrepont’s less than stellar performance In the mail room draws a rebuke from his rather.

The son mends his ways, buckles down, and, thanks to some coaching from Dad, begins learning the business he will some day manage.

If you love a good yarn, or aspire to a leadership role, don’t miss this novel.

Common sense rarely appears in such attractive wrappings.

Letters from a Self-Made Merchant to His Son
Being the Letters written by John Graham, Head of the House
of Graham & Company, Pork-Packers in Chicago, familiarly
known on ‘Change as “Old Gorgon Graham,” to his Son,
Pierrepont, facetiously known to his intimates as “Piggy.”
by George Horace Lorimer
Illus. F. R. Gruger and B. Martin Justice
1903 bestseller #9
Project Gutenberg EBook #21959
 

Photo credit: Pork Loin by morderska

© 2013 Linda Gorton Aragoni

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